Com­petes with his son Rio in races as #TeamAn­gelWolf, to en­cour­age aware­ness, ac­cep­tance, in­clu­sion and equal­ity of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties

Friday - - Anniversary Special -

In the 20 years that Nick has been in the UAE he’s never felt alone. When he and his wife Del­phine ar­rived with noth­ing more than just their back­packs, they felt the usual anx­i­ety pangs of a fresh ex­pat but these lasted only a few months. Be­ing an ex-Bri­tish Royal Ma­rine and a qual­i­fied per­sonal trainer – Del­phine is a qual­i­fied phys­i­cal trainer as well – the cou­ple set up U-Con­cept to pro­vide one-on-one phys­i­cal fit­ness train­ing.

Within no time, the cou­ple were vis­it­ing their clients at their homes, of­fer­ing them cus­tomised phys­i­cal train­ing rou­tines. The cou­ple es­tab­lished such a strong bond with their clients that they soon be­came friends, in­vited to wed­dings and spe­cial oc­ca­sions. ‘Through all our highs and lows and ex­pe­ri­ences, we have never been alone; at times of need or support in some way, strangers of all ages, gen­ders, abil­i­ties, na­tion­al­i­ties, re­li­gions be­came close friends, life­time friends, sur­ro­gate fam­ily. It has made us in­cred­i­bly grate­ful,’ says Nick.

Just when the Wat­sons thought they had found their foot­ing in a for­eign land, they learnt their first-born Rio, who is now 13, had a rare chro­mo­some disor­der called 1q44 dele­tion de­n­ovo syn­drome. It causes seizures, sen­sory in­te­gra­tion dys­func­tion, learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, gross and fine mo­tor chal­lenges.

‘Rio had his first crip­pling seizure when he was six months old. By the time we reached a doc­tor, he was fine, so the doc­tor could not de­ter­mine the cause. It took the doc­tors al­most four years to know that Rio has a chro­mo­so­mal disor­der that af­fects his de­vel­op­ment,’ ex­plains Nick.

When Fri­day fea­tured Nick in its Jan­uary 23, 2009 is­sue, high­light­ing his never-say-die spirit, Nick says he was de­lighted that the ar­ti­cle cre­ated more aware­ness about what dif­fer­ently-abled chil­dren are ca­pa­ble of, and Rio’s con­di­tion in par­tic­u­lar.

The con­di­tion has not af­fected Rio’s dis­po­si­tion, how­ever. While Nick, Del­phine and their daugh­ter Tia are the ‘wolves’, Rio is the an­gel of the team. ‘Rio is such a happy boy and he is hap­pi­est when we are par­tic­i­pat­ing in races. In fact the only time he’s un­happy is when the race is over,’ says Nick. When­ever the Wat­sons take part in a race un­der the name #TeamAn­gelWolf, Rio is a part of the jour­ney in some way. The father-son duo take part in a race or an­other ev­ery week­end dur­ing the sea­son.

Ex­plain­ing the process, Nick says, ‘If it’s a swim­ming race, then Rio is strapped in a kayak that I drag; if it’s cy­cling, Rio’s in an adapted wheel­chair; if we’re tak­ing part in a ver­ti­cal marathon, then I put him in an adapted baby wrap strapped to my back.’

Rio’s en­thu­si­asm and the fact that ‘he is fully ac­cepted, in­cluded and in­te­grated into the rac­ing com­mu­nity, with­out sym­pa­thy or pity’ has been one of the in­spi­ra­tions be­hind the Wat­sons’ ini­tia­tive called Reach­ing U that pro­vides a plat­form en­gag­ing fam­i­lies with spe­cial needs chil­dren, rais­ing aware­ness about their con­di­tion.

‘Rio has changed our lives and di­rected our des­tiny. He has proved to us that there is no limit to what he can be in­cluded in, only our own in­abil­ity or lim­i­ta­tions for try­ing them! He has in­spired so many.’

When Fri­day in­ter­viewed Ab­dul Muqeet Mannan in 2012 he was 10 years old. But what he lacked in age, he made up in de­ter­mi­na­tion. The youngest re­cip­i­ent of the Abu Dhabi Awards, which recog­nises those who have made a dif­fer­ence in the emi­rate, Ab­dul made pa­per bags us­ing old news­pa­pers and dis­trib­uted them to gro­cery stores near his home. He then en­cour­aged them to use his bags in­stead of plas­tic ones.

‘Af­ter the ar­ti­cle on me ap­peared in Fri­day mag­a­zine, schools and cor­po­rate or­gan­i­sa­tions across the UAE in­vited me to talk about the en­vi­ron­ment,’ says Ab­dul.

Soon he was of­fer­ing lessons to his school­mates and friends on how to make pa­per bags ‘and the cam­paign spread across the coun­try,’ he says. Over the years, Ab­dul has re­ceived many awards that cel­e­brate his ded­i­ca­tion to re­cy­cling, from the US Kids Are He­roes award and Times Now NRI of The Year to the Princess Diana award, signed by then UK Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron. What’s his big­gest achieve­ment?

‘The fact that I’ve been able to cre­ate aware­ness about the ill ef­fects of plas­tic bags on our en­vi­ron­ment and in the seven years since I started, many coun­tries, schools and or­gan­i­sa­tions have banned the use of plas­tic bags. Af­ter my visit to Varanasi, the lo­cal rail­way sta­tion banned plas­tic bags,’ he says with pride. Not one to rest on his lau­rels, Ab­dul plans to set up con­ser­va­tion clubs in­volv­ing school­child­ren.

Next up: a ca­reer in cars, he says: ‘I would like to be­come an au­to­mo­bile en­gi­neer and make eco-friendly cars that have zero car­bon emis­sions.’

Nick says the ar­ti­cle in Fri­day cre­ated more aware­ness about what dif­fer­ently abled chil­dren are ca­pa­ble of

Ab­dul be­lieves that the ar­ti­cle on him helped cre­ate more aware­ness in so­ci­ety about re­cy­cling

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